College Basketball Nation: Kevin Anderson

Two weeks ago, in the wake of former Maryland coach Gary Williams' abrupt retirement in College Park, Md., I wrote this praise-filled piece that espoused the importance of Williams to Maryland fans (and, in more personal ways, his importance to college hoops fans in general).

Most of you seemed to like that blog post, but some of you took some umbrage at my omission of former Maryland coach Lefty Driesell from the "greatest Maryland coach of all-time" conversation. As commenter "Non-Larry" put it, "How can you write something like that without at least mentioning Lefty Driesell? [...] It makes it sound as if there was no basketball history at Maryland before [Williams] got there. Not true. I'm not saying Driesell was better, but he's at least in the discussion."

[+] EnlargeLefty Driesell
Mitchell Layton/Getty ImagesFormer Terrapins coach Lefty Driesell said Mark Turgeon was a "great choice" to succeed Gary Williams in College Park.
Non-Larry might have missed the point just a little bit, and other commenters soon had my back. (You guys are the best!) But I see where Non-Larry is coming from: Williams is a towering figure in Maryland hoops history, but Lefty Driesell isn't far behind.

In other words, Maryland fans were probably curious what their old ball coach thinks of athletic director Kevin Anderson's newest hire, former Texas A&M coach Mark Turgeon. Did Turgeon get the Lefty stamp of approval?

Speaking to Baltimore-area radio's "The Norris and Davis Show," Driesell described his long-ago days as one of Turgeon's Ohio Valley Conference coaching rivals, praising Turgeon for his acumen, pedigree and accomplishments. In other words, Lefty likes the hire:
“I think he’s super,” Driesell said Thursday. “We only played him for two years when I was at Georgia State … but he did a great job. Have you ever been to [Jacksonville]? It’s out in the country, man. I don’t know how you could ever get anybody to go to school there.” [...] I know one game we were down there playin' them and we were up 20 at the half. He ran his pick-and-roll play in the second half and he killed us. I put that play in the next year for us."
“Everybody will like him. He’s a super guy. So I think they made a great choice. Look at his pedigree, who he has coached under and what he’s done,” Driesell said.

It's typical Driesell stuff: Blunt honesty mixed with endearing charm. Driesell may not have the kingmaking cachet of some legendary coaches at their specific programs -- this isn't exactly like landing Jerry Tarkanian's endorsement at UNLV, for example -- but if comments like Non-Larry's are any indication, he remains a highly popular figure among Terrapins fans. His stamp of approval can't hurt.

Plus, the man created Midnight Madness. As college hoops fans who just want to see our favorite coaches dress in costume and do "The Dougie," we are forever in Lefty's debt.
Given the high-profile names floated throughout this remarkably quick coaching search -- a four-day master class in hiring efficiency by Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson -- you might be willing to forgive Maryland fans if they react to tonight's news with a collective "Who?"

They shouldn't. In the end, Anderson didn't just move quickly. He didn't just shoot for the splashy name. In landing Texas A&M coach Mark Turgeon, Anderson did something vastly more important: He made a high-quality hire.

[+] EnlargeMark Turgeon
AP Photo/Orlin Wagner, FileMark Turgeon may not be the sexy hire Maryland was looking for, but he has proved to be a winner.
Of course, it's not as though Turgeon has been toiling in obscurity. The A&M coach has won everywhere he's been, a run that began at Wichita State, where Turgeon took a program that had only two winning seasons in its previous 11 and turned it into one that still consistently competes for Missouri Valley titles. In 2007, Turgeon parlayed the Shockers' success into a position at A&M, where he has guided a quietly solid program -- in the middle of football-obsessed Aggieland -- to four straight NCAA tournament appearances.

Still, there's no other way to put it: Turgeon does not qualify as a sexy hire.

He is not the young, charismatic coach coming off a brilliant mid-major run. He isn't the energetic, proven winner lured away from another top program. He isn't Brad Stevens or Shaka Smart or Jamie Dixon or Sean Miller, all of whose names were eagerly bandied about by Maryland fans on message boards and comment sections in the wake of beloved coach Gary Williams' retirement Thursday.

It's fair to say those excited Terrapins fans, who spent the past week hearing their program described as a sleeping giant by every anonymous source in the country -- not to mention followed as their AD met with Miller in Las Vegas on Saturday -- might have hoped for something a bit more, well, exciting.

By all the barometers we usually associate with that word, Turgeon doesn't qualify. To date, he hasn't regularly recruited blue-chip prospects; more often, his players are unheralded workers who develop throughout their multiyear careers. Texas A&M plays a slow, deliberate style. Turgeon's news-conference demeanor can be rather like his teams: quiet, sparse and even downright boring.

To be clear, those aren't bugs or features. That's just who Turgeon is.

The important thing here, the one that really matters, is this: At the bottom of it all, Maryland fans are like any others. They want to win basketball games. Mark Turgeon wins basketball games, and he's done so at places with far fewer institutional advantages than Maryland. It's really that simple.

So a new era begins in College Park -- not with a bang, necessarily, but certainly not with a whimper. Maryland fans can be forgiven if they need a moment to get to know Turgeon, but the more they see of him, the more they'll grow to appreciate the coach's clinical solidity and drama-free approach. They'll appreciate Anderson's efforts in making this hire.

More than anything else, though, they'll appreciate the wins. The rest is only so much noise.
There were a lot of sports-y things to watch Saturday. The Kentucky Derby. The NBA Playoffs. The Pacquiao-Mosley snoozefest. Chicago Cubs baseball. (Ha. Kidding. No one watches Chicago Cubs baseball.) All things considered, it was a solid day to hang with some buddies, fire up some unhealthy food, and stay within striking equidistance of both a television and a refrigerator.

[+] EnlargeSean Miller
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireArizona fans worried as Wildcats coach Sean Miller met with Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson in Las Vegas.
But if you are a college hoops die-hard -- or, better yet, an Arizona fan -- you were far more interested in something you couldn't watch on TV on Saturday. No, you were glued to the Internet, where our own Andy Katz was filing ongoing reports detailing Arizona coach Sean Miller's Las Vegas meeting with Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson about the much-hyped coaching position vacated by former coach Gary Williams late last week.

For all the intrigue on the tube, this one deserved its fair share of attention, too. Would Miller -- who has rebuilt Arizona into a national contender a mere two years after accepting the job in the post-Lute Olson tumult -- leave the comfort and security of Tucson to take his crack at one of the most desirable jobs in the country? Was Arizona to Maryland a lateral move? Did Miller just want to be on the East Coast? And what would become of the Arizona job? (This thing ran so deep Memphis fans were already freaking out about the potential loss of Josh Pastner, the top candidate for any prospective opening at Arizona.)

These are the questions my buddies asked me Saturday afternoon: Why is the Maryland job so attractive? Oh, it is? But can't you recruit just as well from the west coast to Tucson? Doesn't Miller have a good class coming in? Isn't the Arizona gig just as good?

Those weren't just casual sports-dude discussions, though. In fact, they were the essential existential questions suddenly facing Arizona basketball. Would its promising young coach really bolt for another rebuilding challenge, albeit in the enticing recruiting stronghold of Washington D.C./Baltimore? Isn't this program a top 10 job? Isn't it a destination? What, exactly, is going on here?

That's why Miller's decision -- announced via Twitter, and with no small measure of snark, by athletic director Greg Byrne late Saturday night -- must feel like a victory both on and off the court for Arizona fans. Not only does the program get to keep its already successful young coach. Not only does Arizona get to move forward with its loaded 2011 recruiting class. No, Miller's decision also meant something a bit more: Namely, that Arizona was a destination job, that it was every bit as attractive as fans want to think, and that it was capable of keeping its most promisingly influential leader since Olson himself.

Of course, to do so, Arizona had to offer Miller a contract extension, and Miller also got to ask for boosts to his staff's salaries and an increase in the use of charter planes for games and recruiting, according to the Arizona Daily Star. But no matter. Judging by the tenor of Saturday's Internet freakout --- with message board rumors flying about Miller's wife's aggravated desert allergies playing a role in the coach's decision, if you can believe that -- a contract extension and some better travel accommodations are meager prices to pay to keep Arizona basketball, long considered one of the nation's true basketball powers, moving toward a renewal of that goal.

In a weekend of exciting returns and questionable departures, perhaps this was the most important return of all.
There was some good news, and then some not-so-good news, for fans of Maryland, Georgetown and thrilling rivalry basketball this week.

First came the good news, wherein new Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson told the Washington Times that he was "in a serious conversation" with Georgetown AD Lee Reed about reviving the long-dormant Maryland-Georgetown rivalry with a scheduled home-and-home series agreement. Despite their proximity and rabid fan bases, the two schools last played in a regular-season nonconference game in 1993. That dearth has not only robbed fans of bragging rights-worthy hoops. It's also left a large chunk of money on the table.

So, hey, great news, right?

Not so fast, actually. On Wednesday, an apparently perturbed Reed released a statement through a Georgetown spokesman that effectively smothered Anderson's announcement in a large, soggy blanket:
“Kevin and I are friends and athletic directors,” Reed said through a university spokesman. “We’ve had conversations about scheduling possibilities, but it was far too preliminary a talk for it to be the subject for newspaper articles. It’s inappropriate to prematurely blow this out of proportion.”

In other words: "Don't get too excited, because nothing's happening yet, and man, I really wish Kevin hadn't said anything to you guys. Now everyone's going to be mad if this doesn't work out. Nice going, Kevin."

To be fair, both programs have gotten along just fine without playing the D.C.-area rivalry game for almost two decades now. This isn't a defining proposition. But it's also one that need not be bogged down by politics or posturing. It's pretty simple: Fans want it. It would make both programs money. It would be on TV. It would be exciting. What more could the Terps or the Hoyas ask for? Another guarantee game against Chicago State?

Come on, fellas: Just get it done.

Motivated Jayhawks charge by Spiders

March, 25, 2011
3/25/11
11:34
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SAN ANTONIO -- The Kansas Jayhawks are not in this tournament to win the sportsmanship trophy. They’re not here to go along and get along. They’re not terribly interested in playing nice.

They made that perfectly clear before and during their Sweet 16 stomping of Richmond on Friday night, a 77-57 beating that was Kansas at its best. And cockiest. And most intimidating.

The Jayhawks shoved their way inside the Spiders’ heads more than 24 hours before the game and never left, not until the final horn sounded. When Kansas star forward Marcus Morris encountered a couple of Richmond players in the hallway between media interviews Thursday, he issued a verbal warning: “You better be ready.”

[+] EnlargeBrady Morningstar
AP Photo/Eric GayBrady Morningstar scored a team-high 18 points and notched 4 assists and 2 steals.
Then, while the Spiders were huddling in the tunnel before coming out onto the court for tipoff, the Jayhawks barged through. A shoving match ensued between the teams.

“We were trying to run out,” Kansas guard Josh Selby said. “They stood right there, and we just tried to run through it.”

“It got a little chippity,” Morris said. “We had a little battle to get out the tunnel first.”

Said Richmond’s Kevin Smith: “They tried to run through there, and they ran into some walls. It’s a man thing. Would you let a man walk through you? They thought they were playing with some boys with that one.”

No offense to Mr. Smith and the Spiders, but this was a men-against-boys game. Top-seeded Kansas had its way with the No. 12 seed, bursting out to a 31-9 lead and never giving any upset hopes a chance to grow in the Kansas-dominated Alamodome.

Given the way both teams started the game, it’s fair to wonder whether the pregame fracas had a motivational effect on Kansas and an unsettling effect on Richmond. The Spiders say it did not, but the Jayhawks generally disagreed.

Richmond point guard Kevin Anderson said the altercation was not an issue after tipoff but that “I never got my team settled down.”

If Richmond was unsettled, Kansas was unbridled.

“I think it might have been a little bit [of a motivator],” Kansas guard Brady Morningstar said.

The more you mix it up with the Jayhawks, the better they seem to do. Whatever chance there was that they wouldn’t start the game dialed in probably disappeared in that tunnel exchange.

“Maybe they didn’t think we were ready to go,” Morris surmised. “But the first 11 minutes were probably the best we’ve played all year.”

Kansas was indeed brilliant early. The Jayhawks moved the ball precisely and hit their perimeter shots. They extended their defense to disrupt Richmond’s rhythm and force it away from the basket. They predictably hammered the smaller Spiders on the glass. They were good in transition, good in the half court, good everywhere and in every way.

“They are truly a great team,” Richmond coach Chris Mooney said. “They were kind of able to dictate the game, unfortunately, in every way.”

Nobody played better early than Morningstar, who had 12 first-half points and finished with a team-high 18. The senior has a reputation as something of a provocateur. Marcus and twin brother Markieff Morris have been known to keep their elbows cocked and ready, whereas Morningstar is more apt to annoy opponents with his mouth.

He got under the skin of Texas’ Jordan Hamilton in Lawrence earlier this season, prompting Hamilton to cuss at him and draw a technical foul. This time, Morningstar and Smith got into it during one dead ball, and the officials brought both together for a lecture. Not long thereafter, Morningstar buried his fourth 3-pointer of the game and woofed at Smith. He was quickly hit with a T.

“Some kind of noise,” Smith said of whatever came out of Morningstar’s mouth. “He said it running away. ... You can put that in there if you want to.”

Said Morningstar: “I got ahead of myself, and I’m not good enough to run my mouth after I make a shot.”

Morningstar said something else funny postgame. Namely, that he couldn’t understand why Richmond might have been intimidated by the Jayhawks.

Take a look at the thick bodies and unsmiling faces in your own locker room, Brady. If the Morris twins and Thomas Robinson (12 points and 14 rebounds Friday) aren’t a bit scary to look at, nobody is in college basketball.

Richmond was going to be up against it in this game no matter what. But after all the pregame posturing, the Spiders were really in trouble. It didn’t take long for Kansas to exert its dominance and make Louisville coach-turned-temporary ESPN analyst Rick Pitino’s upset pick turn on its head.

“No disrespect to Pitino,” Markieff Morris said, “but we still playing.”

And still talking.

Anderson embodies team of giant-killers

March, 25, 2011
3/25/11
9:00
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Kevin Anderson's now famous, high-arcing floater was seemingly an act of defiance.

In order to hit the shot heard ‘round Richmond -- the basket that helped the Spiders upset Vanderbilt on their road to the Sweet 16 -- Anderson first had to outfox Festus Ezeli. Anderson threw the ball up just before the center, who is 11 inches taller, got the chance to jump.

The 6-foot senior point guard, who was the Atlantic 10 Player of the Year for the 2009-10 season, has embodied Richmond's giant-killer tag. The Spiders face another challenge when they take on top-seeded Kansas on Friday in their first Sweet 16 appearance since 1988.

[+] EnlargeKevin Anderson
AP Photo/Ed AndrieskiKevin Anderson has led the Spiders to their first Sweet 16 appearance since 1988.
Anderson's trademark shot also once served another purpose. Back in grade school, it was his way of making an extra buck.

Shirley Brown, who raised Anderson in Atlanta as a single mother until she remarried when he was a teenager, said her diminutive son was once so shy about taking shots in grade school that she offered a dollar for every one that he hoisted up during games. The two would break down film afterward to calculate the total, and inevitably Anderson would have to go with the floater to shoot over the defense.

“That was the only shot I would shoot,” Anderson said. “Whether I was wide open for a 3, I would shoot a floater, it didn’t matter.”

Brown, whose father was in the military, aggressively pushed Anderson to get better. He didn’t get an allowance growing up other than the money he earned during the games. She was hard on him with her critiques, wanting to make sure he played to the best of his ability.

“I call her Coach Brown,” Anderson said. “She loves me, and she analyzes my game every day. If I play bad, she chews me out. She lets me have it.”

Said Brown: “That’s my style. My mother was Korean. With an Asian upbringing, you’re tough on your kids.”

What put Anderson at a disadvantage was that he began high school 5-foot-1 and weighing 90 pounds. He remembers the numbers because he constantly thought about how his measurements would affect him on the court, and he charted his growth.

“Every time he went to the bathroom, you would hear the beep of the scale,” Brown said.

Anderson was overshadowed on his talented AAU team and transferred to a larger school (Peachtree Ridge High) only when he was a senior. But he showcased enough skills that Richmond coach Chris Mooney offered him a scholarship -- one that Anderson accepted before even visiting campus.

“His intelligence on the floor and his ability to make shots is so incredibly impressive,” Mooney said. “We knew right away we had something very special.”

Little did Mooney know that he had signed a player who would become the school’s second-leading all-time scorer (2,152 points). Besides being honored as the A-10 Player of the Year last season, when he averaged 17.8 points per game, Anderson was named the conference’s Rookie of the Year in 2008.

Anderson declared for the NBA draft after Richmond‘s loss to Saint Mary’s in the first round of the NCAA tournament last season, but he returned for one final journey. He also decided to become more of a vocal leader.

“We all know how quiet Little Man is,” senior Kevin Smith said. “It speaks volumes to his growth as a player, how much he's come from being a quiet point guard to being a floor general, somebody who is able to lead a team by not only example but with his mouth, what he's able to bring to the team outside of just his play.”

While Anderson has struggled with his shot at times this season (.432 field goal percentage), he has come alive at the right time. He averaged 22 points during the Spiders’ championship run in the A-10 tournament and was named MVP. Against No. 5-seeded Vanderbilt in the second round of the NCAA tournament last week, he scored 25 points including the hanging floater with 18.7 seconds left that extended the lead.

The floater was one that his mother instantly recognized.

“Everyone who remembers Kevin remembers that shot,” Brown said. “That was his hip pocket. If things weren’t going well, that was his shot. That was money.”

Diamond Leung covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at diamond83@gmail.com.

Sweet 16 preview: Richmond vs. Kansas

March, 25, 2011
3/25/11
8:02
AM ET


SAN ANTONIO – Previewing the Kansas-Richmond Southwest Regional semifinal:

No. 12 seed Richmond (29-7) vs. No. 1 seed Kansas (34-2), 7:27 p.m. ET (TBS)

What to watch: How do the Spiders handle the big stage? Richmond’s average home attendance this season was 5,959. Its average road attendance was 5,110. Neutral floor: 6,143. Now they move into a domed stadium that will be set up for around 30,000 fans -- most of them rooting for Kansas. This is, by every measure, a significant step up in class for the Spiders -- but this also is a team with four senior starters. If any group of collegians from a mid-major program is going to handle the inevitable butterflies and sweaty palms that accompany this assignment, you’ve got to like Richmond’s chances.

Conversely, how do the Jayhawks handle the pressure? They’re such prohibitive favorites -- in this game, and in this entire broken-bracket regional -- that domination will be the expectation. Anything less than that -- particularly a slow start against milk-the-clock Richmond -- will only feed the hope of the underdog and the anxiety of the Kansas legions in attendance. The Jayhawks believe they rid themselves of a significant upset demon by getting past the round of 32 (where they lost last year to Northern Iowa as the overall No. 1 seed), but now there are more massive underdogs ahead. They can afford to play pressure-free, while Kansas cannot.

Who to watch: For Richmond, the key players are forward Justin Harper and guard Kevin Anderson. Harper has transformed himself from a late bloomer who was more adept at playing the saxophone in the high school band than basketball. The 6-foot-10 senior is averaged 17.8 points, 6.9 rebounds and is shooting a deadly 45 percent from 3-point range. Anderson has been the program's heartbeat for four seasons. The school's No. 2 all-time scorer is averaging 16.7 points and leads the team in assists, steals and minutes.

For Kansas, the key players are the Morris twins, Marcus and Markieff. The brotherly bruisers are combining to average 31.2 points and 15.7 rebounds -- and those numbers swelled to 36 points and 20.5 rebounds in two NCAA tournament games in Tulsa. Everyone knows they have to stop the Morrises, and nobody has been able to do it.

Richmond wins if... : It can avoid being slaughtered on the glass and hit a lot of 3-pointers. The Spiders have been outrebounded on the season, and they’re going up against a Kansas team that has dominated the boards. The Jayhawks are sixth nationally in rebound margin at plus-7.9 per game. Richmond has done a better job on the boards lately, and that will have to continue Friday. To counteract what seems like an inevitable rebounding deficit, UR must shoot well from the outside. The Spiders are a 40 percent 3-point shooting team and have made 104 more 3s than their opposition -- whatever open looks they get Friday night, they need to make. Last year, Northern Iowa withstood KU's eight-rebound advantage by outscoring the Jayhawks by nine from the 3-point arc.

Kansas wins if... : It plays up to its capabilities. It’s really that simple for the Jayhawks -- they’re the better team. If they play inside-out with the Morris twins, hit a few timely 3s to keep the defense honest, take care of the ball and play with their customary defensive intensity, this outcome shouldn’t be in doubt in the final 10 minutes. If Kansas struggles to start and doesn’t cover Richmond outside the arc, it could get tense.

What they’re saying: Richmond guard Kevin Anderson, dreaming big: “Our focus is to get a national championship and Kansas is in the way right now, so we have to go out there and handle our business. … You don’t get to the Sweet 16 and decide that’s good enough. That’s not really a goal. I don’t want to sell our hard work short. Everyone’s saying we’re lucky to be in the Sweet 16, we’re lucky Morehead State beat Louisville. We want to prove those people wrong. What better way to do that than by beating Kansas?”

Bill Self, cautioning against seed-based overconfidence: “The field here is strong. It may not appear from a seeding standpoint to be as strong as 1, 2, 3 and 4 that are left, but I guarantee that there will be nobody that will be looking forward to playing anybody in this field right now. Once you get to the Sweet 16, you expect to play a great team. And we certainly have an opportunity to play a great one [Friday].”

Notable: Kansas certainly has fond memories of playing in the Alamodome. It won the 2008 national title here, courtesy of Mario Chalmers’ last-second 3-pointer that capped a miraculous rally against Memphis to send the game into overtime. “We were all walking together last night on the RiverWalk and just remembering the good times we had,” said senior guard Tyrel Reed, one of three Jayhawks who were on the ’08 team. … Richmond is 5-1 against teams from big-six conferences this season, beating Purdue, Arizona State, Seton Hall, Wake Forest and Vanderbilt and losing to Georgia Tech.

Rapid Reax: Richmond 65, Morehead St. 48

March, 19, 2011
3/19/11
7:48
PM ET


DENVER -- Richmond advances to its first Sweet 16 since 1988, beating No. 13 seed Morehead State 65-48. The Spiders were led by forward Justin Harper, who had 19 points and six rebounds. Guard Kevin Anderson had 14 points while center Dan Geriot had 13 points and seven rebounds. Kenneth Faried had 11 points and 13 rebounds, but had trouble facing double-teams in Richmond’s match-up zone.

Turning point: Geriot buried a 3-pointer to extend the lead to 56-43 with 4:30 left, and it signaled the end for Morehead State. The Eagles’ band members who began the game chanting, “We believe,” began chanting “We still believe” after the play.

Key player: Harper, Richmond’s leading scorer, was 9-for-18 from the field and found his shooting touch after struggling against Vanderbilt. At 6-foot-10, Harper is dangerous with his jump shot and kept working when Faried battled with him inside. He came up wincing on one play after Faried blocked his shot in a vicious collision, but Harper came back to score on the ensuing possession.

Key stat: Morehead State point guard Demonte Harper, after hitting the game-winning 3-pointer in an upset against Louisville, was held to four points on 2-for-15 shooting. He missed all six of his 3-point attempts. Despite 11 rebounds and four assists, the senior had a forgettable day.

Miscellaneous: Geriot was wonderful, as he stood tall in the face of Faried in the post and also shot the ball well, finishing 6-for-10 from the field. When the double-team came against Faried, it bothered him and he had trouble at times passing out of it. As a result, Morehead State was never able to find its rhythm on offense.

What’s next: Richmond moves on to the Sweet 16 in San Antonio to face the winner of the Kansas-Illinois game.

Preview: Saturday in Denver

March, 19, 2011
3/19/11
2:38
AM ET

No. 13 seed Morehead State (25-9) vs. No. 12 seed Richmond (28-7), 5:15 p.m. ET

How they got here: Both 12th-seeded Richmond and 13th-seeded Morehead State staged comebacks against power-conference teams on Thursday. The Spiders beat Vanderbilt 69-66, with guard Kevin Anderson making big shot after big shot and finishing with 25 points. The Eagles defeated Louisville 62-61, with Demonte Harper making the game-winning 3-pointer and Terrance Hill getting hot from beyond the arc as well, scoring 23 points.

Storyline: One of these two double-digit seeds will get to go to the Sweet 16. Richmond, which has a history of big upsets, now takes on the role of the favorite. The Spiders lost to Saint Mary’s in that position last season and now have a chance to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1988. For Morehead State, it‘s a chance to make history again with its first trip to a regional semifinal. “This game is really important because Coach [Donnie Tyndall] told us we have a chance to make it to the Sweet 16 before the season even started,” Harper said.

Players to watch: Think Tyndall likes his chances with Harper and star forward Kenneth Faried? He called Faried his Gordon Hayward and compared Harper, who has shown his ability to take the last shot, to Shelvin Mack of Butler. For Richmond, Anderson proved himself to be a shot-maker against Vanderbilt. Leading scorer Justin Harper struggled with his shot, and the Spiders could use a big day from their senior.

What to look for: Faried is one of the stars of the tournament so far, and he didn’t even have a great offensive game against Louisville. But Faried is so dominant a rebounder and such an athletic presence in the middle that he impacts the game in so many ways.

“We know he doesn’t give a lot of second shots on the offensive end,” Anderson said of the nation's leading rebounder. “It’s going to be tough to stop him."

Richmond could try containing Faried with the 6-foot-10 Harper, relying on his ability to shoot from long range. But lest we forget: Anderson will be a tough matchup for Morehead State, as well.

No. 11 seed Gonzaga (25-9) vs. No. 3 seed BYU (31-4), approx. 7:45 p.m. ET

How they got here: BYU was the only favorite in Denver that did not get upset in the first day of action, as the Cougars dispatched of Wofford with a 74-66 win. Jimmer Fredette scored 32 points, and he also got help with Charles Abouo, Noah Hartsock and Logan Magnusson scoring 10 points apiece. Gonzaga dominated St. John’s with an 86-71 win in which Marquise Carter scored a career-high 24 points and Steven Gray and Elias Harris also had big nights.

Storyline: Not since Danny Ainge was leading Brigham Young have the Cougars been in the Sweet 16, and now it’s Fredette who will try to take them there 30 years later. BYU has won its first tourney game in each of the past two years, but now wants to make a deeper run. For Gonzaga, the perennial dangerous underdog, the Zags want to continue proving themselves as a team and program to be reckoned with. A win against BYU and the national scoring leader Fredette would be yet another milestone victory.

Players to watch: Again, look for Fredette to carry the scoring load despite the opponent’s best efforts to contain him. And in a game with huge ramifications, expect a big dose of him. But Gonzaga does have the advantage of having 7-foot center Robert Sacre to try to exploit a BYU frontcourt missing the post presence of Brandon Davies. Sacre, after helping the Zags dominate St. John’s on the glass, indicated he was looking forward to the matchup against BYU. “A little bit, but they still have Jimmer,” he said.

What to look for: While limiting the damage Fredette does is a must, this game could come down to how well Gonzaga can exploit its height advantage with Sacre, along with the 6-5 guard Gray and 6-7 forward Harris, who are both dynamic players.

“They’re a very big team,” Fredette said. “They got to the offensive glass very well. They get a lot of second-chance opportunities, which gives them a lot of energy.”

Gonzaga will have to continue to get good guard play as well from Carter and point guard Demetri Goodson in order to slow down Fredette and Jackson Emery.

Richmond's Anderson stands tall in victory

March, 17, 2011
3/17/11
9:17
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DENVER -- Richmond guard Kevin Anderson insists he’s 6-feet tall while wearing shoes and that he modeled his game off an Allen Iverson highlights DVD his mother purchased for him as a child.

Fittingly, as the Spiders' program continued their giant-slaying ways with a 69-66 win against fifth-seeded Vanderbilt in their second-round NCAA tournament game on Thursday, the senior was at the forefront for hitting big shot after big shot.

[+] EnlargeKevin Anderson
Justin Edmonds/Getty ImagesKevin Anderson scored 25 points in Richmond's win over Vanderbilt.
He scored 16 of his game-high 25 points in the second half, getting hot from beyond the arc and then hitting a fadeaway over 6-foot-11 Festus Ezeli with 18.9 seconds left.

“I can’t go for a regular layup,” Anderson said. “They’re probably going to get a block. I had to shoot my floaters that have been effective throughout the season for me.

“They’re just floaters, regular floaters.”

Behind Anderson’s playmaking ability and low turnover count (one of Richmond’s three), the Spiders now have a chance to reach the Sweet 16 with a win against 13-seed Morehead State on Saturday.

For Vanderbilt, the loss was crushing. The Commodores became the first program in NCAA tournament history to lose in three consecutive round of 64 games as a No. 5 seed or better.

Last season, it was Murray State that sunk them at the buzzer. This year, coach Kevin Stallings was left conceding that his team “tightened up” toward the end of the game.

“As hard as we talked and as much as we talked about having a relaxed, confident attitude about us, you could tell we tightened up on a couple free throws,” he said. “But it’s the nature of this tournament. That’s why it’s exciting. There’s a lot of pressure and a lot of tension.”

Anderson reveled in it. Richmond trailed by 11 in the first half and by nine in the second half before the barrage of 3-pointers.

After Justin Harper made one, Anderson hit the next three to cap off a 12-0 run that gave the Spiders a three-point lead. Even with 6-foot-7 Jeffery Taylor defending him, Anderson crossed him over and faked him out on one play with three minutes left before hitting a leaner while being fouled.

“They just got hot,” Vanderbilt guard John Jenkins said. “We tried our best to contest shots, but they jumped up and made ‘em. I know we had a couple contested shots, but they kept knocking ‘em down, knocking ‘em down.”

Ezeli and Jenkins led Vanderbilt with 21 points apiece, but Taylor was held to four points on 1-for-10 shooting.

The Spiders got a big lift from their bench, including Darrius Garrett coming up with five blocks and five rebounds. Their bench outscored Vanderbilt’s 23-4, with Francis Martel (12 points, five rebounds) and Cedrick Lindsay (seven points, three assists) also making key contributions.

Anderson said it’s been nice having his teammates pick him up at times when last season’s A-10 player of the year struggled with his shot.

“It’s hard when you don’t have good games and you’re expected to have good games,” Anderson said. “That’s really tough.”

It was the complete opposite against Vandy. When Rod Odom’s contested 3-pointer wasn’t close at the buzzer, Anderson could only think about the Sweet 16 possibility.

“We don’t want to be one-and-done,” he said.

Ten thoughts at the end of a debate-worthy night in college basketball:

1. Before we get to the bracket that is, let’s talk about the bracket that should be. In other words, let’s talk about Colorado. How can I put this nicely? The Buffaloes got jobbed. OK, so that isn’t putting it nicely at all. It’s kind of rude, actually. But it’s 100 percent true. CU’s exclusion from this 68-team field -- and UAB’s inclusion in it -- is baffling.

If you’re interested in this little thing called “wins,” the two résumés don’t really compare. Colorado has six top-50 RPI victories; UAB has none. Colorado beat No. 5 seed Kansas State three times and No. 4 seed Texas once. UAB beat ... um, whom exactly? VCU? Kent State? UTEP? Both teams had ugly nonconference schedules, so the only explanation for the committee’s decision is RPI. Colorado’s RPI is 66, while UAB’s is 31. If that’s the committee’s reason, that’s a pretty bad reason.

[+] EnlargeColorado's Alec Burks
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesAlec Burks and Colorado had six wins over teams in the RPI top 50, but will not be part of the 68-team field.
It’s nice to know that in two days all this selection fervor will die down and we’ll get to the business of enjoying the greatest competition in basketball live and in living color. We’ll forget all about this soft bubble. We’ll remember that not one of the teams on the cut line was all that good in the first place. But until then, there’s no denying it: Colorado got jobbed, and the selection committee can’t give us a good reason why.

2. Speaking of which, selection committee chair Gene Smith did not do a very good job of explaining his committee’s decisions on Sunday night. Meeting with the media mere minutes after the four-day selection haze is the most unenviable responsibility the committee chairman must handle, and I certainly wouldn’t want to do it. But in interviews on ESPN and CBS, as well as in his post-selection show teleconference, Smith practically refused to answer the media’s questions about the committee’s various seeding and selection decisions. Instead, he gave polite nonanswers. In the first question of his teleconference, Smith was asked why Virginia Tech -- the night’s only other surprising snub -- didn’t make the tournament. His response:

“Virginia Tech is a very good ballclub, a well-coached team,” Smith said. “When we looked at them, considering all the other criteria we look at, the committee looks at about 15 different quantifiable criteria, then we have advice from our regional coaches advisory committee, a lot of different things. At the end of the day when we stacked Virginia Tech's résumé up against all the other teams, we just didn't feel like they were a team that should be in the at-large field.”

When pressed a second and third time for specific reasons why the Hokes were left out, Smith responded:

“I would just tell you to look at their overall résumé, look at their schedule, look at how they did relative to their competition that they scheduled in the nonconference schedule.”

These aren’t reasons why Virginia Tech was kept out of the tournament. They’re skeletal explanations of the selection process itself.

They were par for the course for Smith, as chronicled by our own Andy Katz on Sunday night. Smith used the phrase “well-coached” to describe nearly every team he was asked specifically about. He also said there were “10 people in the room and everyone in the room has different emphasis on different criteria.” (Perhaps one criterion would be a good place to start?)

Look: No one expects the committee to get everything right -- it often does a marvelous job under difficult time constraints -- and no one expects the committee chairman to make the entire process an open book. But as the NCAA strives to increase transparency in the selection process and rid fans of the notion that the process is shrouded in secrecy, Smith’s nonanswers only made a frustrating night that much more so.

Anyway, with that whinge out of the way, let’s take a look at the bracket itself:

3. Which No. 1 seed has the toughest route to the tournament? Surprisingly, that team is No. 1 overall seed Ohio State. If seeds hold, the Buckeyes -- who went 32-2 this season -- have the privilege of playing George Mason in the second round, an underseeded Kentucky team in the Sweet 16, and either Syracuse or North Carolina in the Elite Eight. Throw in the rest of this region’s tough outs -- Xavier, Washington, West Virginia and Villanova are all lurking here -- and you can make a rather convincing case that this is the toughest region of them all.

4. Which No. 1 seed has the easiest path? That honor probably goes to Pittsburgh. The Panthers don’t have a friendly second-round matchup; Butler and Old Dominion are both well-coached (that one’s for you, Gene!), experienced tournament teams with unique styles and plenty of talent to boot. But after that, Pitt’s high-seeded competitors (Florida, BYU and Wisconsin) all have their share of potentially fatal flaws.

[+] EnlargeDuke coach Mike Krzyzewski
Jaime L. Mikle/Getty ImagesDoes college basketball need better organization? Duke's Mike Krzyzewski seems to think so.
5. Don’t say the committee favors Duke. That was a common complaint last season, when the Blue Devils were gifted with a wide-open bracket whose toughest challengers -- Baylor and a Robbie Hummel-less Purdue team -- couldn’t stay on the floor with the dominant Dukies in the regional round. This year, however, is different. Duke got Michigan-Tennessee as its No. 8/No.9 matchup, and the Vols have proved capable of playing up or down to any team’s level this season. Duke got a bit of a break with San Diego State and Connecticut at the No. 2 and No. 3 spots, but either team could present problems for Duke on the interior. But the toughest seed came at the No. 4 spot, where an underseeded Texas team -- the Longhorns were very much in the No. 2-seed discussion this week -- could present massive matchup problems for the Blue Devils. If Duke gets past the Sweet 16, it should return to the Final Four. But the toughest matchup of the Devils’ tournament could come earlier than anticipated.

6. The No. 5-versus-No. 12 matchups are always prone to upsets -- if there’s a cardinal rule of bracket-picking, it’s that -- but this year’s matchups should prove to be especially intriguing. Kansas State will play Utah State, a 30-3 team that dominated its conference, beat Saint Mary’s in Moraga, and could be much more dangerous than anyone realizes. In the Southwest, Vanderbilt got the underseeded Spiders as its No. 12 matchup; Richmond has one of the best guards in the country in Kevin Anderson and an emerging (and hyper-efficient) star in Justin Harper. In the West, Arizona will play Memphis in the battle of Josh Pastner, who was a walk-on at Arizona and spent years there as an assistant. And in the East, West Virginia will play the First Four winner of UAB-Clemson. The Tigers are enticingly athletic. The Blazers are playing for respect after schlubs like me spent all night telling people why they don’t belong in the tournament. All of these games are interesting, and for reasons beyond the usual 5-12 intrigue.

7. Speaking of interesting middle-seed matchups, how about these two 6-versus-11 matchups. In the East, it’s Xavier versus Marquette. In the West, it’s Cincinnati versus Missouri. One could argue that Missouri is a bit underseeded given its entire body of work, but the Tigers did notably struggle on the road this season and fell flat in a blowout loss to Texas A&M in the Big 12 tournament. But the Tigers’ style -- up-tempo, frenetic and pressing -- is much harder to prepare for in a single-elimination format than in the familiar rigors of conference play. Meanwhile, Xavier-Marquette will showcase two of the nation’s best and perhaps most underrated players in Xavier’s Tu Holloway and Marquette’s Jimmy Butler.

8. If there’s anything the No. 9 seeds have in common, it’s talent, inconsistency and disappointment. The one team excepted from this theme is Old Dominion. The Monarchs have plenty of the first quality, but none of the second or third. But Illinois, Villanova and Tennessee are this season's poster children for teams that should be much, much better than they are. All three have elite-level talent. All three showed promise throughout the season. All three got their biggest wins in November and December. And all three have been frustratingly incoherent since.

9. Beware the injuries and suspensions. Unfortunately, some NCAA tournament teams don’t get the benefit of coming to the tournament at full strength. Georgetown’s Chris Wright is cleared to play, but will likely have a protective cast on his broken hand. Florida State’s Chris Singleton is questionable for the Seminoles. And in the Southeast, two teams missing key players -- BYU (suspended forward Brandon Davies) and St. John’s (lost guard D.J. Kennedy to a torn ACL this week) -- could meet in the second round Friday. All things to consider as you peruse the field and start filling in your bracket.

10. Need proof this was the softest tournament field ever? OK, probably not. You probably reached this conclusion months ago. But in case you’re holding out, check these numbers from ESPN Stats & Information: Since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, five at-large teams made the tournament with 14 losses. There are five at-large teams this season alone with 14 losses. There are seven teams with 13 losses, and 13 teams with 11 losses. That’s a whole lot of losing for the NCAA tournament, but that’s what happens when (a) you expand the field by three bids and (b) you have to fill that expanded field from a pool of candidates that can be described only as the decidedly muddled, mediocre middle.


HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. -- Weeks after star forward Robbie Hummel tears his ACL, Purdue limps to a brutal first-half performance and a disappointing loss against a sneakily good team.

Sound familiar?

It should. After all, the Boilermakers have been here before.

Purdue's 14-point first half against Richmond in the Chicago Invitational Challenge on Saturday was eerily reminiscent of last season's March 13 loss to Minnesota in the Big Ten tournament, when the Boilers famously scored a mere 11 points in a blowout.

This time around, Purdue scored a mere 14 points in the first half. The Boilers shot 4-of-25 from the field in that span -- good for a blistering 16 percent -- missed all seven of their 3-point attempts, and generally looked disjointed, stagnant, and far too reliant on one-on-one play to get decent looks at the bucket.

It was not a pretty performance, and the result -- an ugly 65-54 loss -- served as dual notice: Richmond is a team to be reckoned with, and Purdue still has plenty of figuring out to do.

"If you throw out strategy in this game, and you just simply asked who played harder, who was quicker to the ball, who rebounded, who wanted it more, all those answers are Richmond," Purdue coach Matt Painter said.

[+] EnlargePurdue coach Matt Painter
AP Photo/Charles CherneyLife without Robbie Hummel will give Purdue coach Matt Painter some headaches this season.
"I told our guys: [Richmond] didn't play well," Painter said. "They played hard ... but they didn't shoot the ball as well as they were capable of. I told our guys this could have been a lot worse than it was."

The main question for last season's Boilermakers team was how to generate offense without Hummel's ability to score, rebound, and facilitate. In 2010-11, the question -- one the Boilers have spent much of the time since Hummel's injury discussing -- is already rearing its ugly head.

Saturday night wasn't the first time Painter's players have struggled to score, but it was the first time they did so against a team capable of maintaining its own lead throughout the second half. It would be foolish to lay all the blame for the loss at Purdue's feet; that would discredit Richmond's impressive defensive performance, anchored by a matchup zone that kept E'Twaun Moore and company out of the lane.

It would also ignore Richmond guard Kevin Anderson, the reigning A-10 player of the year and one of the more underrated players in college basketball. (For example: How many people could tell you who the best player on Richmond is? Or who won A-10 Player of the Year last season? Exactly.) Anderson is instant offense, the kind of pure scorer who can beat any defender off the dribble, get in the lane, and drain mid-range floaters with intuitive ease.

He did that -- and plenty more -- on Saturday. Anderson finished the game with 28 points, five rebounds and tournament MVP honors. His offensive brilliance helped Richmond build its steady lead, and his quickness with the ball in the open court made it impossible for Purdue to trap the ball and produce turnovers with the full-court press late in the game.

"Everyone should know how good Kevin Anderson is," Richmond coach Chris Mooney said. "He's done that against everyone, in every situation, every kind of environment, even when they know how good he is. He's really a special player."

Neither Anderson nor the Spiders looked like the scrappy underdog here in the Chicago suburbs. They were the more composed, veteran bunch, and their athletic ability and defensive prowess bode well for another successful A-10 campaign and NCAA tournament appearance. If the Spiders keep beating ranked teams -- they've won six out of nine games against ranked teams in three years under Mooney -- the hoops world will be forced to take even greater notice.

"This was a marquee win for us," Anderson said. "We've had a lot big wins in the past, and this win solidified that this year."

In other words, Purdue fans might not want to freak out just yet. The Boilermakers lost to a good team led by a great point guard in front of a tiny crowd on a neutral floor in late November; the loss doesn't exactly doom the team's season to failure. But there are disconcerting signs at work in West Lafayette, Ind. -- shooting and offensive rebounding chief among them -- and in their first real test of the season, this team decidedly failed.

"Sure, it concerns you," Painter said. "Any time you have bad starts three games in a row ... just trying to execute to get better shots is important.

"The thing that kind of frustrates you a little bit is when you have good shooters taking shots and just not making them," Painter continued. "In those two other games with Oakland and Southern Illinois [both Purdue wins], we eventually started making those shots. Tonight we didn't."

Nor did Purdue get second chances once those shots clanged off the rim. The Boilermakers grabbed only three offensive rebounds in the first half; they grabbed a mere 13 percent of available offensive boards in that span.

Things didn't improve much in the early goings of the second half, either. Painter's team started the half with a contested, hesitating 3 from guard Terone Johnson on offense, and then allowed Anderson to grab an offensive rebound and putback in the lane. Painter immediately called a timeout and it was already clear a sudden second-half turnaround wasn't in the cards.

Purdue did eventually show signs of life. A couple of 3-pointers fell -- the first came with 12 minutes left in the second half, and several followed it -- and Moore and Johnson began to assert more influence on the game with penetration and offensive rebounding, respectively. But Anderson's offensive brilliance, coupled with the athletic interior play of forward Justin Harper, was enough to keep the Boilers from ever seriously threatening to overtake the lead.

In the meantime, Purdue's two stars never did get it going. Moore finished 4-for-17 from the field. Johnson finished 4-for-11.

Last March, Purdue did eventually figure things out. Without Hummel, Painter eschewed the offensive glass in favor of a conservative defensive style, and while Purdue took a dip on the offensive end, they finished No. 3 in the nation in defensive efficiency and made a somewhat surprising run to the Sweet 16.

This season, the story is the same, even if conditions have changed. In addition to Hummel, the Boilermakers lost Chris Kramer to graduation. Kramer's ability to lock down opposing stars was sorely missed Saturday night. And while they face a similar Hummel-less challenge as last season, the timing of the forward's second injury gives them much more time to congeal as a team without him. All is not lost.

The good news for Painter and company? It's still early. Very early. Purdue still has plenty of time to figure how to get buckets without Hummel, and the Johnson/Moore combo isn't going to go 8-for-28 all too often.

But the moral of the story is the same: Without Hummel in the lineup, Purdue's offense struggles.

The Boilermakers have been here before. And as Saturday night showed us, losing Robbie Hummel isn't any easier a second time around.

A-10: Five Things I Can't Wait To See

November, 2, 2010
11/02/10
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You know the drill. Here are five things I can't wait to see in the Atlantic-10:

1. The Dayton dynamic

[+] EnlargeWright
Nick Laham/Getty ImagesChris Wright returns after averaging 13.7 points and 7.3 rebounds per game last season.
The questions about Dayton have nothing to do with talent. By returning NBA prospect and A-10 player of the year candidate Chris Wright, second-leading scorer Chris Johnson, and top defender Paul Williams, the 2010-11 Flyers return their three best players from last year's team. The questions about Dayton are essentially this: How do those players perform without five seniors surrounding them? Brian Gregory's accomplished group of four-year stalwarts all graduated after their NIT championship last season, and Gregory will have to incorporate a good recruiting class around his three talented starters without the benefit of that senior, role-player-type experience on the margins. Wright is one of the more talented forwards in the country, but he had an up-and-down junior season. Can he take the next step as a senior himself? Will Dayton find the right mix in time to make their case for an NCAA bid? And if the freshmen don't perform, is Dayton's core enough?

(Bonus minor Dayton subplot that pretty much everyone except Dayton's theoretical opponent would like to see: Because of the new tournament's First Four play-in structure, and the decent possibility the Flyers will be a bubble team and one of the last four at-large bids in the tournament, there's a decent chance Dayton could play in the play-in First Four tournament in -- where else -- Dayton. Dayton fans show up 11,000 strong for games on the 16-17 seed line; imagine the scene if the Flyers were in town for the tourney. Fun stuff.)

2. Temple in the NCAA tournament

If Temple fans are getting impatient for an NCAA win, they might also be being a little unfair. Owls coach Fran Dunphy immediately turned the Owls back into a winner after leaving his longtime position at Penn in 2006, making three straight NCAA tournaments in the past three years. The only problem? Temple has lost in the first-round of the NCAA tournament all three times. That might seem slightly disconcerting; no one wants to worry that their coach can't win in the NCAA tournament. But the Owls have been besieged by tough matchups in each of Dunphy's three tourney years (including two eventual Sweet 16 teams -- Michigan State and Cornell -- and a James Harden-led Arizona State team), and there's good reason to expect Temple to make the leap in 2010-11. Senior guard and leading scorer Ryan Brooks is gone, but Temple returns almost all of last year's team, which was the seventh-most efficient in the country by the end of the season. Those returns include forward Lavoy Allen, who played with the USA Men's Select Team in scrimmages against Kevin Durant and the rest of USA Basketball this offseason. Barring a massive disappointment, the Owls should be back in the NCAA tournament again in 2010-11. The real intrigue is what they do when they get there.

3. What happens when you doubt Xavier

If ever there was a year to doubt the Xavier Musketeers, this might be it. Gone is Jordan Crawford, a brilliant scorer who took and made a huge percentage of Xavier's shots in 2010-11. Gone is forward Jason Love, Xavier's all-time wins leader with 108. Taking their place are ... well, actually, that's the point: It's hard to see just who on the current Musketeers roster can replace Crawford and Love's production. Is this the year Xavier finally releases their four-year stranglehold on the A-10 title?

The thing is, we've asked that question before. We asked it when Xavier lost Stanley Burrell, Josh Duncan, and Drew Lavender in 2008. We asked it again when Xavier waved farewell to Derrick Brown, B.J. Raymond, and C.J. Anderson in 2009. Before Crawford revealed his talent, the 2009-10 Musketeers -- with a first-year coach, no less -- were supposed to fall off. But Xavier made a third straight Sweet 16, and the program kept chugging along as if the laws of attrition didn't apply. This year, maybe they will. Point guard Tu Holloway will have to take over much of the scoring and leadership load in Crawford's and Love's absence, senior forward Dante Jackson will have to take a leap, and a handful of talented freshmen and redshirt holdovers will have to be ready to play right away. It's a lot to ask, and if ever there was a year to doubt Xavier -- for good reason -- this is it. But one does so at her own peril.

4. Richmond's battle for respect

We probably didn't talk enough about Richmond last season. The Spiders won 26 games, made the NCAA tournament (where they ran into a hot St. Mary's team in the first round) and featured A-10 player of the year Kevin Anderson, a dynamic point guard who is supremely adept at beating defenders and scoring in the lane. Anderson returns in 2010-11 and is the de facto favorite to win conference player of the year honors again. But Richmond is far from a one-man show. The Spiders also return 6-foot-10 forward Justin Harper, whose inside-out versatility makes him extremely difficult to guard. Throw in a trio of interesting freshman and a total of 11 scholarship players returning from last year's team, and the result is a legitimate A-10 favorite that still isn't getting enough love.

5. An immediate turnaround at Charlotte?

Given the way Charlotte's season ended -- when the 49ers dropped seven of their last eight games, followed by the firing of longtime coach Bobby Lutz -- it's easy to forget how it began. Charlotte started the season by going 18-5 and looked like a potential A-10 contender and NCAA tournament team. The wheels fell off, and Charlotte hired former Ohio State assistant coach Alan Major to get things repaired. Major, like most new head coaches, is probably allowed the usual three- or four-year grace period, but he might not need it. Charlotte returns four starters from last year's team, including leading scorer Shamari Spears and fellow high-usage forward Chris Braswell. The 49ers aren't overwhelmingly talented, but they aren't bereft, either, and it's not hard to imagine the energy of a new coach and a less muddled leadership situation giving the 49ers a bit of a boost.
While Kentucky coach John Calipari was anticipating for the past month that he might lose his fence-sitters in the draft, he also knew he could still withstand the blow by recruiting at an elite level.

North Carolina State and Richmond are two programs that couldn't afford a setback.

[+] EnlargeSmith
Chris Keane/Icon SMIRetaining Tracy Smith, NC State's leading scorer and rebounder last season, was vital for maintaining the program's momentum.
On the surface, there is no reason to believe NC State's Tracy Smith or Richmond's Kevin Anderson would stay in the draft. Neither had much buzz about them, but this is an era where just having someone mention you might be a first-round pick, or even a second-rounder, can entice a player to say goodbye to school.

NC State is a program that should be on the rise. With the return of Smith, the team's leading scorer (16.5) and rebounder (7.3) last season, the Wolfpack may finally turn the corner under Sidney Lowe after four subpar years. The Pack haven't won more than six ACC games under Lowe and won five last season. But NC State won six of its last nine games overall and the recruiting has finally reached a national level.

"We've definitely got momentum," Lowe said. "We finished strong and with quality players coming back and the young talent coming in we're going in the right direction.''

The Wolfpack signed up one of the top perimeters in the fall with guards Ryan Harrow and Lorenzo Brown. Then in late April, they snagged the highly coveted hometown forward C.J. Leslie of Raleigh. If Smith had departed early, the momentum would have been stunted.

"That would have been a tremendous blow to our team,'' Lowe said. "I wasn't worried, but someone got in his ear and told him that it won't hurt to throw your name in. It was all of a sudden. He did tell me that he would come back."

Lowe signed Leslie amid rumors that he was going to be fired (not true) and the athletic director who hired him was going to be out (which turned out to be correct when Lee Fowler resigned last week, effective June 30).

"We got C.J. during a tough time of change," Lowe said. "Lee was good to me. A good man. It was a tough deal."

Now the Wolfpack have the veteran presence in Smith and the high-level talent coming in with Harrow, Brown and Leslie.

"That's what we've been waiting for," Lowe said. "When you look at the top programs that's what they do, year in and year out. This is the group that we've been able to recruit when they were young. We've got guys coming back with some five-star, high-quality players to mix it in."

Programs trying to move upward can't afford to lose talent early to the draft if there isn't a backfill immediately behind them.

Richmond made the NCAAs for the first time under Chris Mooney this past season. The Spiders won nine games in the A-10 in each of the previous two seasons and then last season won 13 and 26 overall before losing to Saint Mary's in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The backcourt of A-10 player of the year Anderson and David Gonzalvez wasn't going to be reunited with Gonzalvez a senior. But had the Spiders also lost Anderson, keeping up with Temple, Xavier and Dayton would have been a chore.

Like Smith, Anderson just wanted to see if he could get a bite. With the short window of opportunity, he did not and returned.

Gonzalvez ate up a lot of minutes last season and Darien Brothers, who played sparingly, Kevin Smith and Greg Robbins -- the latter two more wings than traditional guards -- will share minutes in place of Gonzalvez. Take Anderson out of the equation and there goes Richmond's marquee player, its go-to guy and a veteran presence to ease in these players.

"That would have been difficult to overcome," Mooney said. "We've finished in the top five three straight years in the A-10 and we're on line to finish high again. That would have been a setback. We're building the program to where we want it to be.''
NBA draft boards are safe.

Saturday’s NCAA-imposed deadline to withdraw from the NBA draft (international players still have until June 14) didn’t produce any last-minute decisions that will affect the first round, but that’s not the case for the preseason top 25 in men’s college basketball.

[+] EnlargeJaJuan Johnson
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesBoth JaJuan Johnson (left) and E'Twaun Moore will be staying in Purdue.
None of the players who were still mulling over decisions would have affected the first round of the NBA draft. On Friday night, the official decisions of Kentucky freshmen Daniel Orton and Eric Bledsoe put two more undecided early-entrants in the first round. But on Saturday, the most anticipated decision came out of West Lafayette, Ind., where JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore told coach Matt Painter they will return for their senior seasons. The Boilermakers, with the return of Robbie Hummel, will have what is likely the most experienced and productive trio returning of any power-six club.

Staying in the Big Ten, Illinois desperately needed Mike Davis and Demetri McCamey to come back to school after a season in which the Illini just missed out on the NCAA tournament. Losing one of their productive forwards and their most experienced guard would have crushed Bruce Weber's team, even though there is an influx of young talent there. Neither Davis nor McCamey were considered first-round draft picks.

With these decisions, the Big Ten likely will receive considerable hype as the nation's best conference for the second preseason in a row. Purdue could be a preseason No. 1, Michigan State will be right on its heels, and Ohio State (with its loaded recruiting class), Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois and Northwestern (which gets back Kevin Coble from a season-ending foot injury) are all capable of contending and making the NCAA tourney.

In the ACC, Virginia Tech’s Malcolm Delaney decided Friday night to return to school. It was a good move. He wasn't a first-round pick, but he’s certainly one of the top guards in the conference and gives the Hokies, who return nearly their entire team, a chance to be a top-25 team next season.

New Mexico figured it would lose leading scorer Darington Hobson, and it did, meaning the Lobos will have to start the season again having to prove themselves as a Mountain West title contender. Xavier figured it was going to go into next season without Jordan Crawford, and it will, meaning the Musketeers will need to find another headline act. But the Musketeers’ program hardly lacks for talent and it's never wise to overlook this team in the preseason.

Richmond received news that it can still be competitive in the A-10 with conference player of the year Kevin Anderson's return. The Spiders would have had to rebuild had they lost both Anderson and senior David Gonzalvez. Temple would have faced a similar situation had Lavoy Allen not come to his senses and returned to school.

Alex Tyus' father and uncle both told the local press recently that they felt Tyus was a natural small forward, that he was being underutilized at Florida and that he should declare -- even go overseas if he wasn't drafted. He apparently didn't listen. Tyus, who wasn’t a first-round pick and might not have been a second-round pick, will return as a solid role player for a team that will challenge for the SEC East title. Florida may not have cried if Tyus had left, but it would have taken another system player out of the mix. His return allows the Gators to go through the offseason without a distraction, unlike when Marreese Speights left early in 2008 and Nick Calathes bolted for Greece in 2009.

Meanwhile, Kenneth Faried’s decision to stay at Morehead State means one of the better talents in the country will shine more of a spotlight on the Ohio Valley next season. Faried had a shot to alter the draft board in the latter part of the first round, but is just one less name for NBA personnel to sweat over during the next six weeks.

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